Beyond the Berlin Wall

Berlin WallThis coming week marks the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the years since the wall came down, Germany’s vibrant capital has become a major center for the arts and a top destination for tourists.

In 2014, Academic Arrangements Abroad organized several educational tours that took place around the 25th anniversary of the collapse of Berlin Wall. One of our groups visited St. Mary’s Church to see an exhibition about Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic sermon there. Travelers on this journey also explored the iconic sights of post-reunification Berlin, including the East Side Gallery, a stretch of the original Wall covered with international paintings, and the Brandenburg Gate, meticulously restored since the reunification.

Image courtesy Hamburg tourism

Image of St. Michael’s courtesy of Hamburg tourism

This coming year, we’re exploring new parts of Germany. Join lecturer Olivier Bernier in June to discover Hamburg, the country’s biggest port, as well as enchanting small city of Hannover. In Hamburg, an architectural tour takes us past the great Art Deco businesses houses and to the Baroque St. Michael’s church. Discover the city’s museums including the Arts and Crafts Museum, with extraordinary objects ranging from medieval sculpture to a rich Art Nouveau collection, and the Bismarck Foundation Museum.

Image of Buddenbrook House by Andreas Geick

Image of Buddenbrook House by Andreas Geick

In the Hanseatic port city of Lubeck, visit St. Marein’s Church and Buddenbrook House, a literary museum devoted to Thomas Mann, before continuing to Schwerin to see its Baroque castle and lovely gardens. En route to Hannover, once the capital of a North German Electorate, stop to explore the enchanting town of Celle. Highlights in Hannover include a private tour of the perfectly restored gardens at Herrenhausen and visit to the city’s museums.

Herrenhauser gardens by Johannes D.

Herrenhauser gardens by Johannes D.

Academic Arrangements Abroad, together with leading cultural and educational institutions, is proud to offer a diverse portfolio of exceptional trips. For additional information, call us at (800) 221-1944 or email

8 Reasons to Sign Up for Academic Arrangements Abroad’s Christmas Markets Cruise

Regensburg marketsIn cold December days of yore, Europeans gathered in town squares to buy and sell spices, sweets, and other special items for the holidays. Fresh gingerbread and mulled wine kept them warm, while music and games gladdened their hearts. These were the first Christmas Markets, and centuries later they continue to bring the magic of the season alive.

During a special holiday cruise aboard M.S. AmaBella, travelers will sail from Budapest to Nuremberg. Along the way, they’ll discover some of Europe’s best Christmas Markets. Here are 8 reasons we love this voyage.

1.)    A special “illuminations cruise” in Budapest

Budapest Danube banksAfter boarding M.S. AmaBella, passengers will enjoy a welcome dinner. Then the ship will sail a special cruise along Budapest’s waterfront. Many of the city’s UNESCO World heritage monuments are brilliantly illuminated at night, making the Hungarian capital appear even more spectacular than it does during the day.

2.)    A seven-night cruise of Europe’s waterways aboard M.S. AmaBella

Amabella - Exterior - DurnsteinThis 161-passenger river vessel features a combination of amenities and design details never before seen on Europe’s great waterways. Most staterooms have distinctive “twin balconies.”  Onboard amenities include complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the ship, an elevator, a heated pool and whirlpool, and a fitness room and sauna. Bicycles are available for use ashore.

3.)    Watching a training session at the legendary Spanish Riding School

Leaping lipizzaner

Leaping Lipizzaner. Image courtesy of Spanish Riding School, Vienna.

In Vienna, travelers will start the day with a walking tour of Vienna that includes St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the historic city center.  Then they’ll continue to the famed Spanish Riding School, the oldest riding academy in the world, to watch a training session from a separate VIP area.

4.)    Lecturer John Meffert

Architectural historian John Meffert—who helped preserve historic Charleston, SC—will be joining travelers on the program. A much-loved travel companion, Mr. Meffert has delighted many study tour groups over the years with his lively lectures and insights on preservation.

5.)    Melk’s Benedictine Abbey

Melk Benedictine AbbeyA guided tour will take the group to Melk’s magnificent Benedictine Abbey, situated on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube. One of Europe’s largest baroque monasteries, the abbey has a medieval library that inspired Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose.

6.)    An optional excursion to Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg and the DanubeTravelers may either stay aboard and enjoy a scenic cruise to Passau or join an excursion to Salzburg, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is also the setting for the classic film The Sound of Music. Join in the merriment at the lively Christmas Markets, renowned for local handicrafts and one-of-a-kind Old World gifts. Those who prefer to stay aboard will arrive in Passau in the late afternoon.

7.)    A walking tour of medieval Regensburg

Visitors will step ashore in Regensburg to see the city’s highlights, including the Old Town Hall and the Porta Pretoria — gates to a Roman fort built in 179 C.E.  In addition, travelers will have an opportunity to walk in the Old Kornmarkt Christmas Market and browse the festive stalls, or visit the “royal” Christmas Market at the Thurn and Taxis Palace to see craftsmen at work.

8.)    Visit the world’s largest Christmas market

Christmas Market in Nuremburg

Image of Christmas market courtesy Nuremburg Tourism office, Steffen Oliver Riese

Throughout the journey, travelers will spend time at holiday markets including the world’s largest Christmas Market in Nuremberg. The market has over 100 red and white canvas-topped booths offering an assortment of unique toys, tinsel angels, dolls, gingerbread and other treats, and an endless variety of other seasonal goodies.

About Us:

Academic Arrangements Abroad, a leader in cultural travel since 1977, designs and operates travel programs for sponsoring institutions that include the nation’s top museums and alumni associations.

For more information on the Christmas Markets cruise, please contact Academic Arrangements Abroad at (212) 514-8921 or


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Forgotten Trip to Divided Berlin

Martin Luther King, Jr.

In September 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Cold War Berlin. He’d been invited by Willy Brandt, then the Mayor of West Berlin, to speak at the 14th annual cultural festival of the city. The famous clergyman’s whirlwind visit included a stop at the Berlin Wall, where an East German had escaped to the West the previous day, sparking a gun battle between East German border guards and U.S. soldiers.

Additionally, Dr. King crossed the border at Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. There, he preached to an excited crowd in the overflowing St. Mary’s Church (Marienkirche) at Alexander Square about African Americans’ struggle for civil rights in the United States. Although information about his appearance had only been made known by word of mouth, at least 1,000 people packed into the church. Later that night, Dr. King performed a second church service at Sophia Church (Sophienkirche) in East Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie“May I say that it is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth, “said Dr. King in the sermon.  “For here on either side of the wall are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”

Dr. King’s visit to Germany has been largely forgotten during recent years. However, his journey there and his message of non-violent social revolution inspired Germans on both sides of the Wall.  (Click here for a full transcript of the sermon.)

Berlin WallDuring our 2014 Berlin Wall trips, Academic Arrangements Abroad will visit St. Mary’s Church and see the current exhibition about Dr. King’s historic sermon there. Travelers on this exciting new program will also explore the iconic sights of post-reunification Berlin, including the East Side Gallery, a stretch of the original Wall covered with international paintings, and the Brandenburg Gate, meticulously restored since the reunification.

For additional details about the 2014 Berlin trips operated by Academic Arrangements Abroad, visit our website or call 800-221-1944.

Returning to 82nd & Fifth

Bhutan photo from Jim FriedlanderThis past winter, we blogged about The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new web series, 82nd & Fifth. In that post, we promised to keep you updated on other curators who would be Traveling with the Met, so we were excited to see more familiar faces on 82nd & 5th. Morrison Heckscher was the lecturer for our September “Houses of the Irish Aristocracy” program, and Kurt Behrendt traveled to Nepal & Bhutan with us in October.

Photo of Danielle Kisluk-GrosheideThe web series also showcases talented lecturers who will be leading some of the upcoming “Travel with the Met” programs. In early May, Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide will be the Met’s lecturer on “Enchanting Douro River,” a cruise aboard the luxury riverboat M.S. AmaVida. A curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, she discusses an elegant table in her web episode, “Identity.”  You can also listen to Daniëlle muse on her relationship with trees in her Connections episode, “Trees.”

Assistant curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints Freya Spira will join us in Berlin and Leipzig from May 30 to June 7. Her episode, “Exposure,” examines the details of German artist Albrecht Dürer’s 1504 print “Adam and Eve.”

Image of Denise LeidyDuring the summer, Denise Leidy, curator in the Department of Asian Art, will join Met travelers to explore fascinating Mongolia in summer 2014. Her 82nd & Fifth episode, “Divinity,” examines a Liao dynasty arhat (luohan) statue.

Deniz Beyazit, assistant curator in the Department of Islamic Art, will explore Turkey with Met travelers in September 2014.  Deniz’s episode, “Getting Lost,” is about the tughra (official signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent.

Barbara Drake Boehm, who will sail with Met travelers on our Catania to Valletta cruise in October 2014, is curator in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. She has also been on past trips with Academic Arrangements Abroad and the Met to destinations including Sicily. Her web episode, “Predestined,”  looks at an intricate copper plaque with angels.

Image of Mike HearnLater in the fall, Maxwell K. (Mike) Hearn, Douglas Dillon Chairman of the Department of Asian Art, travels with us to Vietnam and Cambodia in fall 2014.  His episode, “Eternity,” focuses on a Chinese scroll that depicts a cloudy mountain. An expert in Asian art, Mike’s reflections are certain to enhance our Southeast Asian adventure.

At the end of 2014, Alice Cooney Frelinhuysen, Anthony W. and Lulu Wang Curator of American Decorative Arts, will join us for a New Year’s trip to Russia. Her web episode looks at a hair ornament created by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Troika rideWe hope you’ll join other Met travelers for one of these exciting journeys in 2014. You can get a behind-the-scenes look at past trips through the Travel with the Met blog   or find out more about upcoming trips on the museum’s website.

Our Favorite Fall Festivals

Munich from Munich tourist boardMunich’s Oktoberfest is in full swing. The famous festival has more than 14 tents serving everything from cold beer to warm potato salad, rides such as the Pirate Adventure and more. However, there are lots of other fall festivals that are worth visiting. Here’s a roundup of a few of our favorites.


Head Down Under for Australia’s largest food festival. At Good Food Month (October 1 to 31, 2013), top chefs will show off their skills in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra.

Watch 750 hot air balloons fill the sky at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (October 5-15, 2013).  If you want to get a different perspective, there’s also the option of taking a hot air balloon ride during the festival.

View and buy art by over 1,000 artists at London’s Frieze Art Fair (October 17 to 20, 2013). Designed by architects Carmody Groarke, the fair is housed in a bespoke structure in Regent’s Park.

Eat some of the best barbecue in the South while enjoying music by blues legends such as James Cotton at the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival (October 18 to 20, 2013). Presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the event is free and open to the public.

Dia de los Muertos by Salvador AlcCelebrate the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico (October 31 to November 2, 2013). Participants honor the deceased family members through building special altars. Although festivities occur throughout Mexico and in Mexican communities throughout the United States, Oaxaca is an especially good place to witness the holiday.


Diwali in CoventryWitness Diwali, the Festival of Lights (Nov. 3 to 8, 2013), which is celebrated in India and other locations with large Hindu populations (such as the UK and Trinidad and Tobago).  The five-day festival includes fireworks, the lighting of clay lamps (called diyas), exchanging gifts and eating festive meals.

Pushkar Camels by Gloria DeLucaExperience Pushkar’s Camel Fair (Nov. 6 to 17, 2013), a five-day livestock fair held each year in Rajasthan. A favorite of multiple staff members here at Academic Arrangements Abroad, this extraordinary event attracts approximately 300,000 people and as many as 20,000 camels, cattle and horses.

Discover the Thai festival of lights, Loi Krathong, on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month during the Thai lunar calendar. This year, the festival falls on November 17. Loi Krathong is celebrated all over Thailand, but some of the most beautiful celebrations are in Chiang Mai, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.

For other suggestions, read our fun fall festivals post from last year!

Great Hotels that Used to Be Something Else Entirely

Some hotels haven’t always been spots for weary travelers to conduct business, be pampered or simply lay down their heads. Here are a few amazing places to stay that used to be everything from prisons to monasteries.

Hostal San MarcosThe magnificent Parador de León San Marcos, a former 16th-century monastery in Leon, Spain, has lovely paintings, carvings and tapestries in public areas. You can enjoy a stay at the parador during our 2014 program “In the Footsteps of St. James: El Camino de Santiago.”

Hotel Monasterio by Genvis LociIn Cusco, Peru, the elegant Hotel Monasterio was originally built in 1595. “Hotel Monasterio sits on the site of Inca Amaru Qhala’s palace,” explains the hotel’s website. “Three years later, the Spanish took it over and founded the Seminary of San Antonio Abad.” Remodeled as a hotel in 1965, it has a beautiful courtyard. A stay at this stunning hotel is part of our 2014 South American Highlights program.

Instead of pilgrims and seminarians, some hotels once housed prisoners. The luxurious Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul’s old city is “housed in a century-old neoclassical Turkish prison.” The hotel is located a short stroll from major sites including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

Another establishment that used to be a jail is The Långholmen Hotel in Sweden. The hotel assures us that: “Today, you are met by a modern hotel with newly renovated ‘cells’ (2008) with daring design solutions and free access to wireless broadband.” The hotel also has a museum, From Crime to Chains, which offers insight in to Långholmen’s past.

Lake Palace at nightIn contrast, many great hotels around the world used to be palaces. The Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur was once the summer home of Maharana Jagat Singh II, 62nd successor to the royal dynasty of Mewar. Located in the middle of Lake Pichola, this distinctive hotel has mosaics, a lovely courtyard, richly colored frescoes and ornately carved furniture. Fun fact: the James Bond film Octopussy was filmed on the premises.

Near Udaipur, magical Devi Garh is a stunning former fortress. This heritage hotel “was the royal residence of the rulers of Delwara principality, from the middle of the 18th century until the mid-20th century.” Today this all-suites property is also a wellness destination: travelers can relax at the spa or experience yoga on the rooftop.

The Umaaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur was built between 1928 and 1943 for the grandfather of the present Maharaja. Designed by Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester, the building is a blend of Eastern and Western architectural influences. According to the hotel’s website: “Its majestic 105-foot-high cupola is influenced by the Renaissance, while the towers draw inspiration from Rajput tradition.”

Another fabulous palace hotel in India is the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. Built in 1835 for the queen’s favorite handmaiden Kesar Badaran, the mansion was later refurbished as a royal guesthouse and hunting lodge. According to the hotel’s website, “Rambagh remained the home of Jaipur’s Royalty until 1957, when it was first converted into an upscale hotel.”

Of course, hotels outside of India were also once homes to royalty.

Ciragan Palace Kempinski ExteriorIstanbul’s fabulous Ciragan Palace on the Bosporus, now a five-star hotel that is part of the Kempinski chain, is a former Ottoman palace. Designed by Armenian palace architect Nigoğayos Balyan, the building was destroyed by a fire in 1910 and served as a football stadium before a Japanese company bought and restored it in 1989. It was renovated again in 2007. The hotel’s lavish Sultan’s suite was featured in a CNN story on the world’s most expensive hotel suites.

Hotel Lost Seises SevilleHotel Los Seises in Seville was once the palace of the Archbishop of Spain. According to the hotel’s website, “As part of a refurbished sixteenth-century palace, the hotel’s rooms contain wonderful museum pieces, Roman mosaics, Renaissance paneling, Arab décor, tiles, paving and columns.” It also has a lovely terrace with a swimming pool and stunning views of the Cathedral and La Giralda.

Not interested in sleeping like a royal? Several historic hotels have also served as government buildings, hospitals and more.

The Hotel im Wasserturm  in Cologne, Germany, was once Europe’s largest watertower. As the hotel’s website explains: “the 140-year-old listed brickwork building is now presented with truly exceptional interior design of classic modernity. Partly destroyed during World War II, rebuilt in the early 90s and configured in three rings by British engineer John Moore — the Wasserturm is a journey through time and local history.”

In England, the London Marriott County Hall occupies the building that used to be the home to the city’s government. Some rooms have views of iconic sites such as Big Ben, the Thames and the London Eye.

The Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan, Iran, was built about 300 years ago as a caravansary. King Soltan Hossein attributed the complex of buildings to his mother, which is why it was called “the school and caravansary of Madar-shah” (which means “king’s mother”). Today the hotel is known for its splendid décor and lovely central garden.

Hostal dos Reis Católicos, located at the Plaza do Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela, was formerly a hospital. The hotel, which dates back to 1499, is considered one of the oldest in the world and once provided shelter to pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago. The parador is another place where our travelers will stay during the 2014 “Camino de Santiago” trip.

Are there any other hotels that you would add to this list?

Our Book Club Hits the Camino de Santiago

Santiago CathedralOne of our 2014 trips will be along the Camino de Santiago, so we thought this book might be fun to read in preparation:

I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago

by Hape Kerkeling, Shelley Frisch (Translator)

A review on describes the author as “one of Germany’s most beloved celebrities, a cross between Bill Bryson and Paulo Coelho.” The book chronicles Kerkeling’s pilgrimage along the famous route.

Cover of I'm Off ThenPublishers Weekly says: “Encounters with other pilgrims enliven this travel account, especially the two English-speaking ladies who accompanied him toward the end; as they approached Santiago, they all felt emotionally uplifted. While the author is better known in Germany and his antics somewhat lost in translation, his emotionally probing narrative develops depth and a touching sincerity.”

We plan to meet and discuss this book near the end of June.


Meet Ute Keyes

Ute KeyesUte Keyes started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in April of 2012. As Manager, Tour Operations & Development, Ute helps to operate and develop exciting new travel programs for the firm. She has an M.A. in art history and previously worked as an administrator at a small but prominent New York museum.

Hometown: Duisburg, Germany

City I would recommend to friends: New York (!), Quebec, Barcelona, Paris, Berlin and Heidelberg (have a sweet spot for the latter…my alma mater)

Quito_cathedralCity I would drop everything to see: Quito, Ecuador

Who would play you in a movie?: No idea! I guess I wish it would be Meryl Streep…

Special skills: Arts and crafts. I’m also a specialist in turning the smallest places into pretty and usable spaces

Most visited websites: The New York Times, Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Suedwestrundfunk.

Ute at RodeoWhich Academic Arrangements Abroad programs have you enjoyed working on the most?: Currently, I’m enjoying working on “In the Footsteps of St. James: El Camino de Santiago.” It’s a totally new program I have developed and which was suggested by my dear colleague Elizabeth Kester; it brings back a lot of good memories of my medieval art history studies. Also, “Berlin; Tear Down this Wall.” I was in Berlin during the actual fall of the Wall (1989), so it is a program dear and near to my heart!

Something that surprises people: I love to ride my red bike in New York City (and I am not scared).

Marisa Ute on camel in front of treasury_email-2Three things I can’t travel without: Black dress/skirt, my multi-color pearl necklace, good old-fashioned Moleskine notebook

Number of trips: I guess around 50 (if my extensive travel within the United States counts). Around 35 within Europe, Africa and Asia.

Beyond ‘Brats

By Anastasia Mills Healy

When thinking of a meal in Germany, if you conjure a picture of a bratwurst in a beer hall, we have a few surprises for you on an upcoming trip to Dresden and Berlin.

Kempinski Hotel DresdenAt the five-star Kempinski Hotel Taschenbergpalais in Dresden, dine on roasted duck with vanilla carrots and hazelnut potatoes at Restaurant Intermezzo, whose elegant courtyard turns into an ice skating rink in winter. Enjoy a crêpe filled with salmon, chive crème fraîche, broccoli and arugula on the terrace of the hotel’s Palais Bistro, which has spectacular views of the historic Frauenkirche.

The Kempinski also operates the highly acclaimed restaurant Lesage, housed in the glass-walled Volkswagen factory. In this distinctive setting, watch workers in white lab coats assemble Phaetons while working your way through a meal that might include a salad of chanterelles and truffles, followed by saddle of veal on turnip cabbage with spinach gnocchi and cassis butter.

Berlin Reichstag domeIn Berlin, lunch at Kaefer’s, on the roof adjoining the stunning Reichstag dome, will be memorable both for its panoramic views and decidedly non-diet fare such as foie gras-stuffed fillet of beef wrapped in bacon.

Fischers Fritz at the Regent BerlinYou won’t want to say “Auf Wiedersehen” at the farewell dinner in our Berlin home, the deluxe Regent Berlin. For five years running, the hotel’s Fischers Fritz restaurant has earned two Michelin stars for cuisine such as skate with lemon, caper butter, and caramelized parsley root, presented with impeccable service in an elegant oak-paneled dining room.  “Probst!” to new German cuisine.

Glorious Gardens

At Academic Arrangements Abroad one of our favorite trips each winter is “Gardens of the Caribbean.” During this coming year’s sojourn aboard the sailing yacht Sea Cloud II, travelers – accompanied by horticulturist Patrick Bowe –visit some of the islands’ top gardens. Tortola’s J.R. O’Neal Botanic garden includes an array of indigenous and exotic tropical plants. On Sint Eustatius, garden buffs will have the opportunity to join an excursion to the Miriam C. Schmidt Botanical Garden, a haven for the island’s rich biodiversity. And on Nevis, they will discover the five-acre botanic garden.

Caribbean flowers

On other programs with Academic Arrangements Abroad, travelers also stroll through spectacular outdoor spaces. These include Holland’s magnificent Keukenhof Gardens, where over a million flowering bulbs provide a vast carpet of color. In Korea, visitors to Changdeokgung Palace will explore the grounds including Biwon, the palace’s secret garden.  A journey through North India includes visits to Humayun’s Tomb, a prototype of Indian garden tombs, and the famed Lodi Gardens in Delhi.

We asked staff members to share recommendations for gardens around the globe. Here are their suggestions.

Ute Keyes, Manager, Operations and Development, says one of her favorite gardens is in Schwetzingen Palace in Germany, which she visited frequently when she was a student in Heidelberg.  Surrounding the palace are both a symmetrically designed French baroque garden and an English landscape garden.Tulips in Holland

“It’s not too big and not too small—just the right size for strolling on a Sunday afternoon,” says Ute, who adds that the best time to see Schwetzingen is in May, June and July, when everything is in bloom.

Director of Operations Erin Sorensen favors the Scilly gardens in Tresco in the United Kingdom. “They are beautiful and surprising, as they feature tropical plants in England and are somewhat remote (people take boats or helicopters to reach them),” she says. “The unique weather patterns in that area create the right climate for those plants.”

Patrick Bowe

Tour director Eleni Papachristou feels any springtime garden program with Patrick Bowe is memorable.  Eleni explains, “He gets so excited about each and every blossom, and his passion is contagious.”

What are some of your favorite gardens?